Hearing management

Updated 13 December 2017

Music therapy brings troubled families together

In a Danish trial, music therapy had a positive effect on communication between emotionally neglected children and their parents.

For families with emotional neglect issues, music therapy can improve parent-child communication and stress levels, according to a study from Denmark.

A chance to be heard

In a small trial, music therapy had a positive effect on both verbal and nonverbal communication between emotionally neglected children and their parents. Parents participating in music therapy also perceived their children as less stressful.

"For children experiencing emotional neglect, music therapy can provide them with a chance to be heard and responded to in a safe, fun, and non-threatening context," said Kate Williams, a music therapist and lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia who was not involved in the study.

Read: What is child abuse?

Music therapy generally involves the therapist, parent and child playing instruments together, listening to and discussing music or playing musical games.

Stine Jacobsen, who led the new study, told Reuters Health by email that her team used interactive games in which parents and children took turns following and leading each other and the therapist provided, "a musical frame for the family to try and approach each other nonverbally through the music."

Jacobsen, who heads the music therapy program at Aalborg University, and her colleagues recruited 18 families with children ages 5 to 12 from a residential family care centre that acts as an alternative to removing children from their parents.

All of the families showed signs of emotional neglect including social dysfunction or delayed emotional development.

Easier to talk to children

Nine parent-child pairs received the centre's usual treatment programme, while the other nine received six to 10 music therapy sessions. The music therapists observed the parent-child interaction and parents reported on their own stress and parental relationship prior to treatment, and again four months later, in questionnaires.

After the series of sessions, parents involved in the music therapy found it easier to talk to and understand their children, and to communicate nonverbally, than parents who did not receive music therapy.

Read: Depression and music therapy

The music therapy parents also reported being less stressed out by their children's moods and feeling more empathetic toward them, compared to the standard-treatment group, the researchers reported in the Journal of Music Therapy.

Both groups of parents increased their positive responses to the children and decreased their negative ones, and showed improvements in parenting stress and stress in general. That suggests music therapy may not be more effective, but neither was it less effective than the standard care.

"Engaging in music therapy with a trained therapist offers (parents) the chance to learn new skills in responding to children, and practice them in a live and real way," Williams said.

Benefits beyond the sessions

Jacobsen's team says the study results are preliminary and need to be repeated with a larger group.

Williams also says it's not clear whether the results in therapy will carry over into the home setting, though it is likely that the benefits will continue beyond the sessions.

Read: Get along with your parents

Jacobsen pointed out that musical skills are not required to participate in music therapy and "the process is more important than the product."

Families can also get some of the benefits without attending formal music therapy sessions, Williams said. Shared music experiences between parent and child, such as listening to music together, dancing and singing, are helpful for a child's development and likely good for parenting skills as well, she said.

Jacobsen recommends starting this musical bonding early. "Singing together or singing for your infant or toddler can be a very intimate bonding activity and comes naturally for some families. The earlier you start interacting nonverbally with your child in a meaningful way the more you might see or feel the benefit."

SOURCE: Journal of Music Therapy, Winter 2014.

Read more:
Communication skills worse in close relationships
Musical therapy 'awakens' Alzheimer's patients
Media devices at dinner spoil family life

Image: Red heart on piano from Shutterstock


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Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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